10.31.2008

Three Small Things 10.31.08

Recently NASA has really been a part of the internet community by using Twitter to regularly communicate about various missions. Reading these updates has not only been interesting, but it also provides an anthropomorphic way to relate to these spacecraft that are so far away! I've really enjoyed following the Phoenix Mars Lander, and yesterday it seemed like the end of the line, since it's beginning to freeze up. I was actually sad when it said "I should stay well-preserved in this cold. I'll be humankind's monument here for centuries, eons, until future explorers come for me." It make me think I was talking to WALL-E! While Phoenix goes to sleep, now I'm going to follow Cassini while it orbits Saturn!

Since my portable digital life is 100% handled by my iPhone now, I decided to sell my iPod on Gazelle (which I mentioned previously when they were called Second Rotation). Once again, it was a super easy experience, since it's simple to get an offer online, then they take care of everything, including sending a shipping box! In a few weeks I has $60 bucks in my PayPal account, which is a great deal if you ask me. I only wish I had more electronic junk to sell!

For years now I've been using HaloScan to capture comments on WEBmikey, since Blogger's own commenting method used to be pretty lame. But recently Blogger finally got their commenting act together, so now I can finally use their nice integrated comments. For now all of my old posts will still have HaloScan links, but the new posts are using Blogger comments, and I think they look nice! (Yes, I know rarely get comments anyway, but when I do they will look better.)

10.30.2008

Space Invaders Extreme / Nintendo DS : 4 of 5

For me, the best indicator that a game is great is when you finish playing and immediately say to yourself, "Just one more game..." Space Invaders Extreme definitely has the "one more game" factor, and I've been having fun playing it for weeks now! Of course, the title tells you exactly what to expect, which is an updated version of the most historic video game next to Pong, but with tons of updates along with the nostalgic charm. The basic game is the same (its simplicity is part of its beauty), but the presentation is incredible - the only way I can describe it is like a psychedelic rave! Hyper artistic backgrounds move around, pumping music plays that is actually affected by your game play (hits are sometimes accented by cymbals and other percussion that go with the soundtrack), and text elements have a fantastic futuristic look. Even the voice used to announce different rounds has that great female computer-ish sound! As far as changes to the basic gameplay, there are some cool bonus rounds with various challenges that reward you with some "fever" time (where you can really knock out a lot of invaders), plus various weapon powers like multiple shots or huge laser beams. After a certain number of rounds there are also bosses to beat, which moves to the next full level of the game. Of course, you can keep continuing where you left off, making this game incredibly addicting since you want to keep going to see how far you can get! Overall, Space Invaders Extreme is incredibly simple, but the presentation is so fantastic that it's one of the coolest games I've played in a long time. Now if you'll excuse me I have to see if I can get past the Level 4 boss again!

10.29.2008

Aeon Flux : 3 of 5

I can still remember seeing the original animated Aeon Flux shorts on MTV's Liquid Television and being amazed at their interesting look, awesome action, and futuristic weirdness. I was kind of surprised when I heard Aeon Flux was being made into a live action movie, and even though I was interested I somehow missed it at the theater (or was driven away by bad reviews), but I'm glad I rented the DVD to help satisfy my recent thirst for sci-fi action. Although this isn't a fantastic movie, I'm still impressed by the story they came up with given the source material! The world of Aeon Flux is a future where 99% of the world has been wiped out by a virus, and the remaining survivors live in an utopian city under a somewhat mysterious and strict government, which is opposed by a group of rebels, including Aeon Flux herself. The visual design is really interesting, including lots of organic elements with futuristic yet elegant simplicity, and I loved how they incorporated iconic scenes directly from the animation (I was pretty shocked to see the fly caught in the eyelash, but I guess that was absolutely essential!). Aeon's costume obviously couldn't be as skimpy as it is in the cartoon, but her various outfits still had the same sexy feel, which looked great on Charlize Theron. Although I liked the plot well enough and the action sequences are certainly OK, they just didn't have the style of an artistic martial arts film, and I think that look would have made Aeon Flux a much better movie. But it was still a cool DVD experience with some nice bonus documentaries on the DVD, and now I'm definitely interested in watching the original animation again!

10.28.2008

High School Musical 3 / Senior Year : 3 of 5

Even though I was a little late in becoming a High School Musical fan, I've really enjoyed the first two movies and soundtracks, so of course my pal Melinda and I had to see Disney's new big screen release right away. It was nice to get away from the school itself in High School Musical 2, but for this supposedly final part of the trilogy we have to come back to the classroom, which means a lot of the numbers are reminiscent of the original movie, including a basketball song and a cafeteria production. But this time around they really take advantage of their silver screen budget, so everything is pushed to the limit! Sharpay's big song is hilarious (definitely her best of the series), and Zac and Corbin show off some high-energy moves in a junkyard as they relive their childhood adventures (and even turn into kids in one funny moment). The plot is as simple as can be, with predictable tensions about future college decisions and preparations for the big school musical, but it's a fine story for this film's audience (and it was obvious the kids in the audience were loving it). I'm in it for the songs and dancing, which is deliciously formulaic and perfect! Just watching it makes me stunned at the youth, beauty and talent of these performers - it's a fantastic feeling to step into this perfect high school world for a few hours and feel like a teenager again. High School Musical 3 tries to make it obvious that this is the end of the line, complete with a graduation ceremony and final looks into the camera from all the major characters, but of course they will all live on in endless marketing opportunities. For me, I'm looking forward to getting the soundtrack and enjoying some upbeat, cheesy songs with Troy and Gabriella!

10.27.2008

Glengarry Glen Ross / City Theater : 4 of 5

I haven't been to many plays recently, but when my pal Conrad let me know that he had a role in David Mamet's amazing Glengarry Glen Ross, I had to go see it! I've always enjoyed Mamet's work for it's intensity and realism, and this play is no exception. Even though I know nothing about the world of cut-throat real estate salesman, somehow this story makes you simultaneously despise and feel sorry for each of the characters. Reading Mamet's dialogue is a real challenge - he almost never finishes a sentence (exactly like real people talk!), but this cast pulled off the difficult lines with expert timing. There are so many fascinating, rambling speeches that surprisingly get across real philosophical points, and it's totally up to actors to make that happen. Conrad did an amazing job - I've really enjoyed seeing his acting prowess grow in past productions, and now it feels like he's hit the big time! The office set was realistic and expansive, but the Chinese restaurant set wasn't so great (although they did what they could with limited space), and other details like lighting and the use of music were all good. But for a play like Glengarry Glen Ross, none of that really matters - it's all about the acting, and the cast completely delivered. This was my first production to see at City Theater, and I'll definitely keep my eyes open for their shows in the future!

10.26.2008

Dance Dance Revolution X / PS2 : 4 of 5

It's amazing that DDR has been around since 1998, and this new release celebrates the 10 year anniversary of the game! It's always exciting for me to dive into a new DDR game, since everything is so fresh and there's tons of things to unlock. But Dance Dance Revolution X is quite a bit different than the Supernova series - besides a few dancer outfits and songs, almost everything is already available from the start, even Endless Mode, which is usually the "grand prize" after unlocking everything. So, the whole idea of earning points to spend at the store has been scrapped, and the new master mode is now Street Master Mode, which follows a loose story for each of the characters. It's kind of interesting at first, as the characters move around on a map and engage in dialogue, but it gets old pretty fast! But there's plenty to love about DDR X for me, too. The song list is nice and long and includes some cool new indie tracks and anime themes (with videos) as well as the DDR classics like Butterfly (absolutely essential for an anniversary mix!). The difficulty levels seems to be well balanced, too - the basic steps aren't too boring to be fun, and the more advanced steps are challenging without being suicidal! While the stage backgrounds are a little silly (why am I dancing in front of giant cupcakes?), the dancers themselves look awesome. Alice is back with new outfits, including a super cute Native American number that takes the award for hottest video game pants! Even though it feels like DDR X is kind of less advanced than previous releases, it's still got all the elements I enjoy for hours of fun and exercise. Now I just have to work up the addiction and keep dancing!

10.24.2008

Manga Mentions 10.08

I'm still working on the same old series, but a few of them are winding down. I'm looking forward to choosing some new titles after I finish these!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 7: This volume of the story was almost exactly like the Nodame Cantabile drama, with no extra bonus scenes, but I really didn't mind, since I love this part of the series. I'm always inspired to read about life goals through the voice of manga characters, and the oboe player says one of the best lines ever in this volume when he's asked why he works hard practicing: "I'm happy if I can play oboe well, and I'm happier if I can play it better."

xxxHolic Vol 12: Back when I started this series, I knew it had some crossover elements with Tsubasa (another Clamp manga that I wasn't interested in), but they always claimed each story would stand alone. Unfortunately, this volume is full of a dream conversation with Princess Sakura from Tsubasa, which was kind of annoying. I'm curious about the wish for Yuko, but the whole thing is a little confusing!

Dr. Slump Vol 17: This manga has been going on so long that there just can't be much more happening in good old Penguin Village! This volume has a lot of interaction with the author Toriyama himself (such as Q&A pages and so on), and finally returns to some hilarious pervert moments for Senbei! I enjoyed the glimpse into the future and finding out which characters get married, too!

Video Girl Ai Vol 8: Although I like this manga, I always feel like I'm still reading I''s (incredibly similar story by the same artist)! Yota finally confesses to Moemi in this volume, and they enjoy some tender moments together, but Ai's video tape (her lifeline) starts getting jammed or something in the VCR, so there's trouble ahead!

Nodame Cantabile Vol 8: I usually try to space out my reading among more titles, but I couldn't resist reading another Nodame volume this time. This was another fast one, with lots of text-less pages during big Rising Star Orchestra performances. Even though these go by quickly, I love how they make sure you know exactly which classical piece is being played - nice detail!

10.23.2008

Godzilla vs Biollante : 3 of 5

I've read that some Godzilla fans consider Godzilla vs Biollante the best film of the Heisei series, but even though I had a great time watching it, it was kind of a mixed bag for me. There's a lot of good things going for this movie, though, including a pretty interesting plot that begins with the clean-up of Tokyo, fresh from its destruction in The Return of Godzilla. During the operation, soldiers collect some Godzilla "cells" (more like scales) which become the focus of the story, since they can be used to genetically engineer bacteria that can eat nuclear energy! Unfortunately, these same cells are used by a scientist to create one of the most bizarre kaiju ever, Biollante, who begins as a giant rose (seriously) and later turns into Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors! Godzilla is awaked from his slumber in the volcano by terrorists who really want that nuclear-eating bacteria, and of course everything progresses to some great destruction scenes (Osaka takes a beating this time!). The acting is pretty good (except for the horrendous English lines at the beginning), and a few characters are introduced (such as Miki the psychic girl) who will appear in future Heisei films. The Super X is redesigned as the Super X-2 (all remote control this time), which can actually deflect Godzilla's atomic breath with a fancy mirror! But there are some bad points, too, such as the horrible soundtrack. I like how they used a few original themes, but when they transition to crappy 80s action themes it's just so uneven that it made me cringe! I also thought the battles with Biollante weren't too spectacular, either - the effects are great, but it's too easy for Godzilla to just cook that big broccoli. Now I'm completely caught-up with the holes in my Godzilla watching, so it's time to move onward!

10.22.2008

Three Small Things 10.22.08

I need to amend my previous mention about Dad's iPhone App Store obsession, because now Dad has Mom hooked, too! My parents have always been slot machine fanatics, and after Dad downloaded Reel Deal Slots, Mom started playing it like crazy. She plays it whenever she has a break in the day, or while she's watching TV in the evening, and Mom and Dad both go crazy when they get a bonus round. Together they have racked up a huge amount of fake money (and real hours of time!), and I love it that my old iPhone is having such an active life with my parents!

I have a Jamba Juice for lunch at least once or twice a week, since it tastes delicious and it feels good to know I'm eating (drinking) something fresh rather than all those frozen dinners. Last week there was a new employee who got the proportions wrong and accidentally made enough for two full smoothies, so they gave me the second one for free! I didn't want to have two for lunch, so I put one in the freezer and ate it the next day with a spoon. It was like a healthy ice cream-ish treat!

The Austin Symphony just updated their website, and while I was checking it out to write yesterday's review, I was surprised to find my Leila Josefowicz review linked right on the home page! I've always considered my posts to be much more personal recollections than actual reviews, but if the Austin Symphony appreciated what I wrote, then I'm happy! It may not be on the home page for long, but they have a special excerpt page that hopefully will stick around. It's strange seeing my words on a professional site!

10.21.2008

Austin Symphony / Anton Nel : 4 of 5

This particular symphony experience was unique for a couple of reasons. First, I decided to experiment with balcony seats (I usually sit up close), and although I really enjoyed the great view of the full orchestra (I like to watch the percussionists in the back), I felt a little disconnected being that far from the sound (although the acoustics were excellent). Second, this was the first program in a long time where I wasn't already familiar with any of the pieces being performed, so it was nice to be introduced to totally new works! The concert began with Messiaen's The Ascension, which was much more modern than I expected, but the way the movements used different sections of the orchestra was fascinating. The guest performer was pianist Anton Nel, who played on two major works (which was nice, since most guests only do one piece) - a short Schumann and the Mendelssohn concerto, which were both incredible. The slow movement of the concerto was particularly fantastic, and it really makes me want to hear more Mendelssohn (I don't have much of him in my iTunes library)! But my favorite work of the evening was Respighi's Church Windows, which uses huge instrumentation (including an onstage piano) and is filled with booming drama and symbolism. I'm a big fan of Pines of Rome (which I first heard in Fantasia 2000), so it's no wonder that I enjoyed this four movement masterpiece so much - I've already put the CD on my wish list! As usual, going to the symphony was an exciting and peaceful experience - but I think I'm going to see what the Mezzanine feels like next time!

10.20.2008

Meteos: Disney Magic / Nintendo DS : 3 of 5

About a year ago I was really addicted to the original Meteos, so it was an easy decision to check out this new version of the game with a Disney theme (and I got it for a nice used price!). All of the basic game play in this falling blocks game is the same as before, with one huge difference - you can move blocks left and right rather than only up and down! This was something that I always wanted to do while playing the original, but now that I've experienced it, I actually think the original method is a little more fun and challenging. I suppose this version was intended to be a little easier for Disney audiences, but to compensate for the block-moving flexibility I think they ramped up the levels a little too much, making it impossible to get anywhere without double or triple launching sometimes. But on to the Disney theme! Each level uses a classic Disney film to somehow give meaning to the falling blocks, so you have to play the game to "restore order" to the story, with Jiminy Cricket and Tinker Bell as your guides. There are some nice Disney graphics on the non-touchscreen while you play the game (but of course you don't really have time to look at them!), and working through the various stories will unlock these images in a library, which gives you something to shoot for rather than just a high score. There are tons of movies represented here (including Pixar films), and it's fun to go through the various storybooks (which were planets in the original game) for variety. But somehow, even though I love the Disney theme, the original science fiction look was a little better, or maybe I just enjoyed Meteos so much that Disney Magic can't really compare. If you were never hooked on the original game and you're a Disney fan, I would definitely recommend this version, since you'll get to enjoy a little easier game concept with all your favorite characters!

10.19.2008

The Return of Godzilla : 4 of 5

This is the dramatic beginning of the Heisei era of Godzilla movies, which completely ignores all the Showa films that were made before, becoming a new "second film" in the series! Although this was a fairly big US release (I remember when Godzilla 1985 was in the theater), this is another film surprisingly unavailable to rent on Region 1 DVD, but thanks again to Showa Video, I was able to enjoy this cool movie. With all of Godzilla's heroic history swept away, The Return of Godzilla is a return to terror and sheer destruction, much like the original 1954 Godzilla, although with much-updated special effects and a new global storyline that involves the US and Russia as they struggle with the decision to use nuclear weapons on Godzilla himself. This is one of the longer Godzilla films, so there's lots of room for good pacing - we never really see Godzilla for the first 30 minutes, which gives the characters time to figure out this is the same monster from 1954, and also allows for a really spooky destruction of a Russian sub (all in Russian language dialogue). There are plenty of gaijin actors in this movie, both Americans and Russians, and unfortunately they are pretty terrible (and even worse in the US release, which also splices in Raymond Burr to reprise his role from the original movie), but I thought the Japanese acting was fine (especially the sudden romance between the reporter and the scientist's cute assistant). But why am I mentioning people when I should be talking about Godzilla himself? Godzilla looks downright evil this time around, and was filmed not only as a suit actor, but as a sophisticated (for the time) animatronic (which is shown in the interesting documentary on the DVD). I thought his arms were a little stiff and his thighs look too thick to me, but on the whole this is a great looking Godzilla, with some of the best atomic breath scenes in any movie I've seen! I also enjoyed the cool Super X attack craft that fires missiles right into Godzilla's mouth (yuck!), almost finishing him off (don't worry, when Godzilla recovers he shows the Super X who's boss!). Even though I've already seen a few other Heisei movies, after watching The Return of Godzilla I feel like I've officially entered the new continuity!

10.18.2008

Burn After Reading : 3 of 5

I'm not really a fan of the Coen brothers (although I really enjoyed O Brother, Where Art Thou back in 2001), but I wanted to see Burn After Reading since my parents enjoyed it and my pals Matt & Kumiko wanted to go. The best feature of this movie is its well-crafted story, which is really complex and yet easy to follow, with lots of characters and plots that keep winding around until they all intersect in various ways (it reminded me a little of Short Cuts). It's entirely too much to summarize in a short review, but the story includes a retired CIA agent, his horrific wife, her lover, a lonely fitness club employee, her bizarre friend, and even more, including the Russian embassy. Everything in this movie is about deception, either on purpose (as in all the affairs going on) or by accident (as in the incredible misunderstandings the characters go through regarding CIA "data" and paranoia). The acting is all terrific - George Clooney is cool in any role (even when he's freaking out), and Brad Pitt is pretty hilarious as the somewhat stupid personal trainer. But even with a great story and actors, I still wasn't totally entertained, since I just couldn't connect to a single character in the film. For me to really enjoy a movie, I need to care about the people in it, or identify with someone, and all of the characters in Burn After Reading are so unlikable. Everyone is either a complete bitch or too insane for me to relate to! I know I'm in the minority, especially with all the good reviews that have been written, but at least I still had a good time at the theater and I'm glad I saw it!

10.17.2008

Cool clones

I'm really impressed with The Clone Wars series so far. Although the Clone Wars movie was just OK, somehow the TV shows have been spectacular! I was expecting the first few episodes to be taked directly from the film, but I was surprised to see entirely new stories (at least for the first three episodes), with really interesting plots, too! Each episode has featured some great dialogue (by Star Wars standards) on the theme of "clones are people, too" - Yoda gave a great speech about the Force to his soldiers, and Plo Koon talked about the value of each clone. The clones are actually treated as true characters, rather than expendable warriors (and the guy who does their voice sure gets to talk a lot, since they are all the same). Pretty interesting stuff, making it especially sad that Order 66 is coming to turn them all into bad guys! Of course, you have to get past the weird opening announcer voice and the silly battle droid lines (although I'm starting to like them!), but in general these are fantastic stories that really feel like authentic Star Wars. It's amazing to see bits of various alien races and cultures from the movies, such as Toydaria (Watto's planet) or the Kaminoan head of the clone medical station. The battle scenes are totally fantastic, and the ship designs are phenomenal, too - incredibly cool fighters and battle cruisers that make me want to buy LEGO sets of all of them! I'm definitely hooked, and I'm sure I'll want to buy this series on DVD. It's just great to have a regular Star Wars injection to look forward to each week!

10.16.2008

Semi-Pro : 2 of 5

I remember when the trailers for this movie first came out, I thought to myself this would be something that my pals and I would see during our usual Sunday night get-togethers, but for some reason we never went. Will Ferrell is a funny guy, so even though his movies seem to be getting worse and worse, I decided to rent Semi-Pro anyway. Unfortunately, the trend continues, making this pretty much my least favorite Will Ferrell comedy. Actually, I'm not even sure "comedy" is the right word - Semi-Pro has a funny storyline, of course, but about half way through they movie I was thinking someone forgot to put the jokes in! Seriously, the story just moves along with hardly a single moment worthy of a chuckle - the funniest gag is the Love Me Sexy song, which was already overused in the trailer. I was close to giving Semi-Pro my rare one star rating, but the fact that I was at least interested enough to make it to the end of the movie bumps it up to a two. The story starts out OK, with 70s singer Jackie Moon buying the Flint Tropics basketball team and becoming a player/owner/coach who has to get the team into the top four to make it to the NBA. The idea definitely sounds good, and setting it in the 70s made for some nice sets and clothes (and I loved seeing the original TV Pong game!), so this would have been pretty cool if they had just gone a little more crazy. I think they were stuck in the feel-good sports movie style when I wanted to see more off-the-wall stuff from Anchorman! Oh well, there's always another movie in my Netflix queue to make up for the bad ones.

10.15.2008

Watchmen / Alan Moore : 5 of 5

Even though I was aware of the premise and significance of Watchmen, undoubtedly the best graphic novel ever produced, until recently I had never actually read it. But after seeing the movie trailer and all the bookstores stocking up on copies, I decided it was time, and now I can join everyone else in praising this incredible work! There's so much to say about this comic masterpiece, originally published as a twelve issue mini-series, that I don't really know where to begin, except by saying it's every bit as riveting as any contemporary, mature, best-selling, traditional novel. It's full of intense themes, shocking scenes, and some really disturbing circumstances, but every single page makes you want to keep reading and go further and further into its world! The plot revolves around a group of masked heroes, now retired after being disbanded by law, who are being murdered, and some of the group decides to investigate. Through each of the chapters you really get into the psyche of each character, not only through the story itself, but also through "additional material" (such as fake book excepts and magazine articles), all of which are amazing. This is also set against world tensions leading to a possible world war, making the whole thing even more dramatic! The artwork and page layout are really beautiful, but not so artsy that they overshadow or take away from the incredible story, which is really the star - Watchmen has some of the most fully-developed characters and detailed backstory I've ever read. Now that I've read it, I know the movie doesn't have a chance of fitting even half of this story into the plot, but of course I'm still excited to see it!

10.14.2008

Maiko Haaaan! : 3 of 5

I always enjoy Viz Video's DVDs of recent Japanese movies, so it was great to see Maiko Haaaan, which was apparently a big hit in Japan in 2007. This is a truly bizarre, almost slap-stick comedy, and I think you really need a little background in crazy Japanese-style humor to get past the thought that this movie is just insane! The plot is about Kimihiko, a completely nerdy otaku who is obsessed with geisha (especially maiko, or apprentice geisha) and Kyoto culture in general. His only dream in life is to play "strip baseball" with a maiko, so he's excited when he gets transferred to Kyoto (even though it's really a demotion), and easily dumps his girlfriend Fujiko. However, due to the "no first-timers allowed" rule, he has to succeed at work so his boss will give him an introduction to the geisha house (all explained in a wacky, out-of-nowhere full musical dancing number!), which eventually gets the real story going, the rivalry between Kimihiko and a famous pro baseball star who also frequents the geisha house. While they compete at various careers, poor Fujiko actually goes through all the training to become a maiko! In the middle of the movie a few serious moments happen, but in general the story is pretty silly, but lots of fun. I'm starting to recognize Japanese actors all the time now (though I never learn their names) - the head teacher from Gokusen has a nice role, and I even saw a few comedians that I've seen on some Japanese TV shows before. The DVD has a nice Making Of segment (also subbed), which was interesting since it shows how popular this movie was just last year. I'm not sure if Maiko Haaaan is something that everyone would enjoy, but I sure laughed a lot and enjoyed this simultaneous look at geisha culture and bizarre Japanese comedy!

10.13.2008

Benkou yasumi

A couple weeks ago I started re-evaluating how I spend my non-work time, and I made the big decision to stop studying Japanese. I've been studying for about seven years, taking two courses at Austin Community College, going to lots of lessons with three tutors, reading tons of books, listening to podcasts, studying with software, scouring websites, and everything else! I've passed two levels of the JLPT, and I like the fact that I can understand so many words when I watch Japanese TV shows (although I still need subtitles). But for quite a while now my study habits have been declining, and I've been spending more time trying to force myself to study than the actual study itself. So, I'm going to take a long break, which means I don't plan on studying again until I really get the urge. Even though I'll enjoy the freedom from making myself feel guilty after not studying, it still feels really weird, since studying Japanese has been my main hobby for so long.

Making this decision has started an avalanche of thoughts about why I do the things I do, and I want to stop doing things just because I feel I "have to". I don't really know what that means completely, but if I feel like I'm forcing myself to do something, then I'm going to stop. This weekend I decided I'm not going to do a Christmas project this year, after spending a lot of time trying to come up with ideas that just didn't come together. So, maybe this is another way of decluttering, or maybe it's a mid-life crisis! Whatever it is, I'm going to start experiencing free time without responsibility for a while, and then I'm going to have to figure out what I'm interested in all over again. Ultimately all that matters is discovering new ways to enjoy life, and I definitely plan on it!

10.12.2008

Godzilla vs Megalon : 2 of 5

As I was making my way through the Showa era Godzilla movies, I was shocked to find that Godzilla vs Megalon was not currently available on Region 1 DVD! Eventually I did some digging and found a source called Showa Video that had this missing movie available, and the quality of the Japanese version (including some impressive subtitles) was excellent. This movie gets trashed often, and I can understand why, but it was still a fun Godzilla experience for me. I enjoyed the slow build-up and pacing of the plot, which focuses on a scientist who builds Jet Jaguar, an Ultraman-ish robot who even gets his own theme song at the end of the film! The enemy this time is Seatopia, a kingdom under the sea (linked to Easter Island) who gets pissed off at all the nuclear testing, so they release Megalon (Megaro in the original Japanese), but they need Jet Jaguar to control the beast. Later Jet Jaguar (back under control of the good guys), goes off to get the help of Godzilla (who is the big hero in true Showa style), and eventually grows to kaiju size and helps in the battle. To even the odds for Seatopia, they decide to call in Gigan, but his appearance seems almost like an afterthought. The big final battle is fun because of all the teamwork, but Godzilla's flying feet-first kicks are just too hilarious for words! This film seems to have a lower budget, too, with almost no city destruction scenes (except reused ones from other movies), and Megalon's suit is really lacking (although I like his creepy mouth design with the sideways mandibles). Godzilla vs Megalon isn't particularly memorable, but I'm thrilled that I've officially filled the gap in the Godzilla Showa timeline!

10.11.2008

Three Small Things 10.11.08

Last weekend the external hard drive that I use to store my 14,000 iTunes tracks decided to bite the dust! It had been cranking away under heavy use for over eight years (which is a pretty long time for a hard drive), so I wasn't too surprised. You would think that would be a really bad thing, but here's the good part! I backup stuff once a month, and had just done my monthly backup the day before, so even with the crash I lost absolutely nothing - not a single file! That's some pretty amazing timing. I've already bought a new replacement 500 GB drive, which turned out to be $100 bucks cheaper than the one I bought last year!

I was contacted by an author in Austria (of all places) who might want to use one of my PEZ photos on the cover of his self-published book (which is about eBay selling). It's kind of nice when the web makes stuff like this possible - I hope he ends up using the picture!

I use the Netflix one-at-a-time unlimited plan, so when I finish watching a DVD, I like to get the next one in my queue as soon as possible (and I just watch Japanese TV shows in the meantime). I discovered that if I drop my DVD envelope off at the post office (which is conveniently on my way to work), they will usually tell me they've received it the very next morning and ship the next DVD later that day! The turn-around time is about a day faster than sending them from my own mailbox, and I'm really enjoying getting DVDs more often.

10.10.2008

Walt Disney's Mickey and the Gang / Classic Stories in Verse : 3 of 5

With Christmas coming soon, I figured I should finally finish the last book of last year's presents! It took me so long to read this book because it's just so giant and heavy that you almost have to sit at a table and fully devote yourself to enjoying it. Mickey and the Gang reprints the beautiful Disney pages that were a popular part of Good Housekeeping magazine from 1934-44, originally started to promote the Silly Symphonies, and later the animated features and other cartoon shorts. Each reprinted page has wonderful artwork, often fully painted, along with a short version of the story in rhyming verse (which are fun and clever). I would have been happy with a book of just the Good Housekeeping pages, but this book provides so much more that it's almost overkill! Along with the artwork, each cartoon includes a full written synopsis (which I don't really need since I have all these shorts on DVD!), then a commentary on the differences (which is interesting since the magazine pages were often produced way before the cartoon was finished), and then if the same story happened to appear in a Disney comic strip, all of those newspaper reproductions are included as well! In the case of the promotion of the animated features, they have even printed the entire text of storybooks that were published at the same time. It's nice to see all of this material, and the collection is impressive, but I would rather not read a several page retelling of Snow White in the middle of a book about Disney magazine artwork. That's my only complaint, however - Mickey and the Gang is an absolutely beautiful book packed with art that can't be found anywhere else. I really enjoyed stepping back in time with these classic Disney rhymes!

10.09.2008

Justice League: The New Frontier : 5 of 5

There's no other way to say it - I was completely blown away by Justice League: The New Frontier, another of Warner Bros. animation's incredible DC Universe DVD series. Based on the popular graphic novel (which I absolutely have to read now!), this unique plot follows the formation of the Justice League of America by tracing real events in American history, specifically beginning in 1953 and focusing on the Cold War. There's definitely a theme of tension with the government, including issues about costumed vigilantes and even racial problems, which leads to everyone coming together to join against a common foe, in this case the mysterious power known as the Center. We get to see the origins of Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan's subplot is particularly poignant), and it's just fantastic seeing all of these major heroes in their Silver Age style (especially the Batman, including an incredible old Batmobile and Batplane!). The animation is really well done, and the overall look of the movie is wonderful! Everything from clothing to cityscapes has a great period look, and even the character design has that "wide face" (almost Jack Kirby-ish) style (which is also based on the original graphic novel). The title refers to the famous JFK speech, which ties the theme together and really gives a sense of heroism to the movie, and there are so many incredible action sequences that I was enthralled for the entire film! The DVD also has a nice long documentary about the history of the Justice League in the comics, along with two commentary tracks that are pretty interesting. With a little more detail, I think this would have been a great theatrical release, and I'm thrilled Warner Bros. has given adult fans such an incredible series of DVDs featuring our favorite DC heroes!

10.08.2008

Dino/LEGO weekend

Last week was pretty tough at work, so I decided to spend the weekend free of all responsibility and just have fun! First I went back to Zilker Botanical Garden to see the DinoLand exhibit, which I had tried to see with my parents, but it was removed due to the hurricane scare. It's all setup again now, and there were lots of people out in the nice weather enjoying it. It was really cool to see life-size dinosaurs (all really detailed with beautiful colors) set against the natural trees and plants - it made them look so real (and instantly reminded me of Disney's Dinosaur, which used the same technique with CG against photographic backgrounds)! Walking along the path and seeing a giant dinosaur up ahead was really fun, and I had a great time taking pictures. After that I went to Toys R Us to buy a LEGO set to build, and I decided on another Star Wars set - the AT-AP Walker. I picked it because it was mid-price range with lots of pieces, and also because all my other Star Wars LEGO sets are ships, so this was my first land-based vehicle. I really enjoyed building it, especially the skinny legs (which are actually quite sturdy) and the cockpit interior. LEGO always brings a smile to my face!

View photos: DinoLand

10.07.2008

Saturday Night Live / The Best of Commercial Parodies : 3 of 5

I haven't watched Saturday Light Live regularly in years, but back when I did I always enjoyed their hilarious fake TV commercials most of all. This DVD collects 25 years worth of the best ones, and it was a blast to watch an hour and a half of these short gems one after another! The best part about these segments is most of them weren't live, so they were shot before the show was aired with all kinds of big budget touches, such as custom music, animation, and even shooting them on film rather than video, giving them an authentic look. Some of these also have guest appearances from stars like Ben Affleck, Queen Latifah, and so on, and others are cast entirely with character actors that aren't even part of the regular SNL comedians! It was great to see some that I remembered really well, like Oops! I Crapped My Pants adult diapers, Colon Blow cereal (with the amazing Phil Hartman), and of course Happy Fun Ball, but there were also a few I had totally missed. I laughed my head off watching the Woomba feminine hygiene robot, and the Gaystrogen prescription drug commercial to prevent "queer loss" was genius. It was also fun to see Eddie Murphy as Buckwheat selling his album Buhweet Sings, without which this DVD would have been incomplete! There are a few new segments with Will Ferrell, but actually they weren't very funny - thankfully the commercials themselves stand on their own. Even if you're not an SNL fan, I can't imagine anyone not enjoying these hilarious commercials!

10.06.2008

Honey & Clover : 5 of 5

I've made it through quite a few complete Japanese dramas now, so it's getting pretty difficult to say which ones are my favorites, but it's safe to say that Honey & Clover is definitely way up there! I've been reading this famous manga in Shojo Beat for quite a while, so it was kind of magical to see these characters that I know pretty well come to life, and many of the situations in the drama were nicely lifted directly from the original story (as they should be). The plot follows a group of art university students, who live eclectic and crazy lives and get into all kinds of deeply emotional love triangles. In fact, even the first episode is filled with romance, which makes this the first time I've cried during the very first episode of a series! For the most part, each episode takes place in a different season, so there's quite a bit of time passing over the 11 episodes, and we get to see everyone graduate and move on with their lives. The main character is Takemoto, who is the least ambitious of the group and always looking for a purpose in life, who falls in love with Hagumi, a shy girl raised in the country who happens to be a painting genius (and also looks like an angel with her peaceful smile!). The rest of the characters are wonderful, too, and all of the episodes are so sentimental, right down to the cool emotional closing credits song that plays over "home movies" of the characters goofing off together (each episode has a different movie, so you actually have to watch the credits!). Although there's a dramatic accident with Hagumi near the end, amazingly the final episode is mostly just simple goodbyes - there's no real finale, but somehow I had grown so attached to all of these characters that I ended up crying anyway. Honey & Clover is one of those series that makes you think about life and appreciate it even more. To me, there's nothing better than a show that entertains you and leaves you wrapped in warm memories!

10.05.2008

Godzilla vs Mothra / The Battle for Earth : 4 of 5

The DVD for Godzilla vs King Ghidorah was actually a double-feature, so I was able to watch this next Heisei era film from 1992 right away. Mothra is back this time around (in both larvae and winged forms), along with an evil "Black Mothra" named Battra, who is one bad-ass kaiju! The main character this time is an Indiana Jones type adventurer (who is introduced with a total Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off scene) who travels to Infant Island and learns about Battra from the Cosmos (which is the name of the "small beauties" who sing to Mothra this time). There's a huge theme about the Earth taking revenge for environmental problems, and apparently Battra was created for that reason. The first major battle occurs at sea, with larvae Mothra and Battra plus Godzilla (who kind of has funny looking ears now), and the swimming effects are really cool! Eventually they end up on land, of course, where Mothra spins her cocoon and finally transforms into all her orange-winged beauty. Battra, on the other hand, transforms in the blink of an eye, and looks totally evil and creepy (I have to say Battra is awesome)! After a really interesting "dogfight" in the sky between Mothra and Battra, they make their way to Yokohama to take on Godzilla himself, teaming up to battle the greater evil. The Yokohama miniature set is spectacular - there are some wide shots showing all of the familiar buildings and ferris wheel including the three monsters that totally blew me away! The fight is kind of slow-paced, but it's fun to see them bury Godzilla under the ferris wheel and carry him out to sea. I really didn't get into the characters very much (partially thanks to the horrendous dubbing), but I was so impressed with the large-scale battles that I really enjoyed myself!

10.04.2008

Three Small Things 10.4.08

When my parents bought me my new iPhone 3G, I gave Dad my old iPhone since he was interested in using it on WiFi around the house (after all, he originally bought the old iPhone, too!). I figured Dad would have fun doing a little web surfing, but I had no idea how much he would get into the iTunes App Store! Dad is totally addicted to downloading just about every free app available, and he's having a great time playing with the iPhone, learning all about the features and buying accessories and so on (you can always tell Dad is into something when he buys a case for it). I'm always happy to see Dad excited about cool products and technology!

Even though I spend most of my DVD time watching Netflix movies, I recently took a break and decided to re-watch some of my favorites from my collection. It was really nice to enjoy Lost in Translation, Amadeus, and even Logan's Run all over again, and it felt cool to actually make use of the DVDs on my shelf! I even wanted to see Planet of the Apes again, but I realized my copy wasn't anamorphic, so I need to re-buy it sometime.

Mom left me a little bag of candy during my parents' last visit, full of peppermint Life Savers and other things I like. It's nice to grab one after lunch before I head back to work, and I always think of Mom and all the things she does to make me happy. That's a lot of good feeling from a tiny piece of candy!

10.03.2008

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning : 3 of 5

Disney's latest direct-to-DVD release proves that in the case of animated features, prequels are definitely better than sequels! The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning is so much better than the mediocre Return to the Sea, not only because Disney has put so much more effort into the animation, but also because the story is just far more interesting. The movie opens in the kingdom of Atlantica, with a young King Triton and his Queen Athena (who looks a lot like a grown Ariel), along with their seven cute mermaid daughters. In no time at all, the queen dies in a terrible accident (giving some nice insight into Triton's distrust of humans in the next film), which causes Triton to banish all music from the kingdom in his sorrow. We get to see Ariel meet Flounder for the first time, and she discovers that Sebastian is the star of an underground illegal nightclub! The musical numbers in the club are absolutely fantastic, with all the creative animation of Under the Sea and just as much energy! The villains are pretty funny, too - Marina is the daughters' caretaker with big ambitions (who looks a lot like Medusa from The Rescuers), and her pal Benjamin in a big manatee with a really cool character design (unexpectedly non-Disney like, but it still works). I wasn't expecting this movie to be fantastic, but I really laughed a lot at the sisters' squabbles and the fantastic music. The animation is nice, too - there's some nice shading in spots (though I wish it were more consistent), and some beautiful close-ups of Ariel during her songs (and thankfully, Jodi Benson returns to the role). The bonus features are really short, but at least there's a short look at the direction of the film, plus a fun behind the scenes segment about the Broadway show. I really enjoyed renting this DVD, but I'd say it's worth buying if you're a Little Mermaid fanatic!

10.02.2008

Studio time, selling DVDs

Last week was pretty much devoted to music, since I had a couple band rehearsals, played a gig, and then spent a whole day in the recording studio with Casa del Swanko! We've been putting a little money aside from each gig just for this purpose, so it was cool to be able to pay for the studio time without any additional investment, which was actually pretty easy since Brain Machine's rate is fantastic. I enjoyed playing their heavy duty drum kit with lots more toms than I normally use, which brought out a few weird fills I didn't know I had in me! The whole experience was really nice, and we were able to lay down six songs, which will be mixed this coming weekend.

Since I don't have much clutter left in my life, I'm always looking for anything that I can turn into a project! The other day I realized that I would probably never re-watch some of the Disney DVD sequels that were filling up my shelf - I used to buy them all the time, but since so many of them were disappointing, I just rent them now. So, I decided to make some "just in case" copies and sell a big stack of these to Planet Replay, who paid me $80 bucks in no time flat (I'm definitely a Planet Replay fan!). Of course, I kept the good sequels like Bambi II and Return to Never Land, but it was nice to free some space on my shelf by selling those bad cheapquels!

10.01.2008

Superman: Doomsday : 3 of 5

I've missed so many animated superhero DVD releases, so I finally decided to go back and rent Superman: Doomsday, which is the first of the DC Universe series of movies (designed to take animated superheroes in a new adult direction). Of course, Bruce Timm was involved with the story and directing, although the basic plot comes from the classic Death of Superman story arc from recent years. The animation quality is definitely nice (which looks especially good in 16x9), but I was a bit surprised by all the character design changes. Later I realized this was intentional (as well as recasting all the voice actors) to separate this film from the Superman animated series, but I wasn't thrilled with the bizarre cheekbones they decided to draw on Clark/Superman (how could they think those looked good?). This story contains Superman's epic battle with Doomsday, ultimately ending in the "death" of the Man of Steel, which has a huge emotional impact since Lois and Superman are an intimate couple at this time. Lex Luthor creates a Superman clone who goes a little overboard with his sense of justice (even killing the Toyman, who looks pretty cool in his realistic redesign, by the way), and eventually the real Superman and the clone Superman have to battle. There's a lot of blood and violence that you would never see on TV (Lex even shoots his assistant Mercy, which is a total shocker!), but all of the action is definitely exciting and shot with interesting angles. The DVD also includes a nice documentary about the writing of the Death of Superman story in the comic books, which was fascinating to me since I haven't read them (yet!). Even though I wasn't totally blown away, I still thought Superman: Doomsday was pretty cool, and I definitely recommend it for Superman or Warner Bros. animation fans.